harvest season

Celebrating Harvest Season and the Festival of First Fruits

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harvest season

The Harvest Season and the Festival of Lughnasadh

A new cycle is approaching, heralding the end of an older one and the beginning of a new phase. Summer is at her final peak during these moments, performing her ritualistic passage through nature, commemorating the juncture when the first fruits begin to ripen as the days grow shorter. It is the beginning of the harvest season known as the festival of Lughnasadh. 

Lughnasadh honours the first grains of the harvest season and is a time of joy and gratitude for the crops. The first harvest— given by the marriage of Sun and Earth— of the cosmic union of the God and the Goddess.

Lughnasadh is one of the four Cross-Quarter celebrations along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Beltane, observed by the Celts on the Celtic Wheel of the Year, which marks the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. There are eight sabbats in the Wheel of the Year. Lughnasadh is the first of the three autumn harvest season celebrations.

It is similar to other harvest festivals such as the English Lammas. Lammas was incorporated into Christianity during the early middle centuries as the Christian church’s power grew and woven the ancient festivity of Lughnasadh into the religious calendar. In this way, it is commemorated and preserved a ritual passage of nature, that otherwise would have been lost. 

The term “Lammas” is derived from the Old English hlāfmæsse “loaf mass”, and it refers to the reverence and importance given to the first grain and loaf in the harvesting cycle. The early Christians commemorated the first loaf of bread derived from the harvest which was brought to the local church, to receive a sacramental officiation.

In the yearly cycle of grains and harvests, Mabon, or the Autumn Equinox, is the Second Harvest of Fruits, while Samhain is the third and Final Harvest of Nuts and Berries.

As the starting point of the harvest season, Lughnasadh represents a defining moment in the Earth’s life cycle and has been observed since times immemorial throughout the British Isles including Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.

harvest season
Me in the Veggie Patch

The etymological meaning of Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh’s etymology and spelling may vary.

Lugh etymologically derives from the god Lugh, and nasadh means “the assembly”. In modern Irish, it is called Lúnasa, whereas in Scottish Gaelic its variation depends on the branch of the Celtic language. For instance, it is called Lùnastal in normal Gaelic and in Manx Gaelic, is referred to as Luanistyn. In modern Irish spelling, Lúnasa is the month of August. A few more names for it are the First Harvest, August Eve, Festival of Breads, and Festival of Lugh.

The god Lugh and the honouring of Tailtiu

Lugh is the Lord of the Tuatha de Danann. His given name, “the shining one” explains his relationship to the sun, as a solar god. Lugh’s many accomplishments in the arts and crafts may also account for the characteristics he possessed: he was attractive, forever youthful, and brimming with energy and vigour. These godlike attributes are most seen in the number of abilities he learned. It is said that August is his holy month.

Lugh’s foster mother, the Goddess Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg, is also honoured at Lughnasadh. She cleared the trees from large areas of land so it could be tilled, planted, and harvested. She is the goddess of earth, who gives people the crops they need. She is associated with the harvest season and apples, grain and grapes. Tailtiu is nature’s cycle of birth and death.

She teaches us to be grateful for the foods we eat, and the sacrifices made in their provision. She reminds us that we must show gratitude for all that we have, and encourages us to share our blessings with others. She also reminds us of our responsibility as caretakers of this planet, so that it can continue to provide for us. Call upon her as you celebrate the bounty of nature, so that we may all work together to restore balance to the Earth.

harvest season

The celebration of Lughnassadh and its particular symbolism

During the Celtic period and perhaps in the Middle Ages, there were established fairs and gatherings held to mark Lughnasadh and the beginning of the harvest season. The original Lughnasa celebrations lasted for a whole month from late July to mid-August but its holiday festivity lasted from August the 1st through August the 2nd, usually starting and ending at dusk.

Largely a harvest festival, it also included a ceremony to appease the great powers that might destroy the crops. Some of these celebrations are still going on today, as vestiges from immemorial times. More than that, Lughnasadh represented a customary day for gatherings and celebrations with relatives.

Bonfires and dancing

In Celtic mythology, the god Lugh was considered a solar King, usually representing light. It was believed that gradually, after the summer solstice, the power of Lugh, starts to fade, leaving the light in his wake.

To commemorate the festival, many people throughout Ireland, continue to light bonfires and dance during these ritual celebrations. Depending on the region, remnants of this tradition can also be found in other parts of Europe. Additionally, bonfires are typically lit on various dates between mid-July and mid-August.

Betrothals

Proposals were signed at Lughnasa fairs, possibly in remembrance of Lugh’s position as a patron and guarantor of vows. One of these was the betrothal or marriage contract, which featured the so-called “Teltown marriage”, wherein the pair makes a commitment to remain together up until the next Lughnasa, after which the partnership may be made permanent or ended without further implications.

Harvesting new grains

Waiting until August the 1st to select the first sheaves of grain was considered auspicious in Ireland. In honour of the start of the harvest season, the farmer’s wife would hastily prepare the first loaves of bread, by night, using fresh grains. It was unfortunate for the future harvest season if they were unable to use freshly harvested grains and had to turn to their stock from the previous year.

The first sheaf was ritualistically cut before daybreak, sifted, crushed, and baked into Harvest Bread, which was then offered to the community as a token of appreciation. Besides, the first beer of the season was also brewed from the first barley stalks. Symbolically, the initial sheaf ensures the seeds’ propagation, and thus, continuance.

Feast days

Lughnasadh celebrates the Goddess Aine’s feast day. She was originally a harvest goddess, and the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after Lughnasadh are regarded as her holy days.

Following the festival, everyone eats bread together, drinking wine to wash it down. People construct crafts and decorations for their homes to celebrate Lugh’s abilities in those areas. And, like with most sacred festivals, this is a propitious time for celebrating the act of eating.

Climbing mountains

Snaefell Mountain was a popular destination, and young people usually practised different rituals there, during the festival of Lughnasa.

Also known as the Calan Awst in Wales, meaning the Calends of August or Gathering Day, Lughnasa is traditionally marked by hiking hillsides for harvesting berries.

Holy wells

Visiting holy wells was another tradition that Lughnasadh, Imbolc, and Beltane held in common. Visitors would walk around holy wells, moving in the same direction as the sun, while offering prayers for good health. Then they would leave offerings, usually in the form of coins or strips of cloth or rags.

harvest season

Honouring the Mother goddess

Baking bread

Commorate the start of the harvest season by baking a loaf of bread with awareness and honouring the source of the flour as it is baked, one ought to remember that it was once a plant growing on mother Earth. Those who have their own garden, usually like to incorporate something they’ve harvested such as potato, onion, corn and herbs.

Some suggest shaping the dough in the form of a man or a woman, giving each figurine a name. If it’s a man, some call it Lugh; if it’s a woman, some may call it Aine or Tailtiu. However, names can bear particular affinities and it’s best to invoke the power of imagination. When the figure is baked and ready to eat, it is usually torn apart with the hands.

Corn dolly

The last sheaf was also reverently cut, typically fashioned into a corn dolly, and joyfully brought to the hamlet. The corn dolly was a time-honoured component of the Harvest Season Supper. Typically, it was prepared from barley, rye stalks, wheat, wheat oats, natural raffia, and even lavender. To create the outline of a woman, the stalks were laced into a corn dolly, with ribbons of different colours. Usually, yellow is prefered because it symbolizes the sun.

If the harvest was propitious, the corn dolly was made into a Corn Maiden. If the harvest was bad, it was made into a Cailleachian hag or cone.

Colours

The first and foremost heralded colour of this festival is yellow, especially in its connection with the sun and the month of August, but also the flowers it represents. But the spectrum of this celebration is complex. It revolves around light brown, bronze, green, gold, and orange. These colours represent the last charge of the sun’s power, materialized into the colourful blooms of the plants.

harvest season

Herbalism 

Similarly, among the most important ceremonial preparations regarding the festival of Lughnasa and the beginning of the harvest season, are the rituals that honour the spirit of the plants.

At this time, summer is still hot and abundant, but despite that, the first falling of the leaves provides more overt indications of the Sun’s diminishing power, announcing the coming autumn and the harvest season. Witches and herbalists employ herbs to promote prosperity and abundance during this time of the year in their cooking, healing, potions, and spellwork.

Sunflowers and corn, together with the first grains like wheat, barley and rye, are the most common for Lughnasadh and the harvest season insofar as they commemorate the harvesting of the crops, aside from the lovely flowers for celebration and rituals.

This is also the perfect time to gather herbs and dry them!

They can be preserved throughout the next year in preparation for casting spells or for use in herbal preparations. From fresh herbs, medicinal oils are also created.

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Sunflowers are famous for their tall stems and bright, yellow blooms. Aside from the flower’s beauty, its seeds are highly nutritious. Their blooming phase is just when summer is at its latest peak, filling the fields with rows of sunflowers in all of their radiant glory.

Since it always follows the sun’s path in the sky, the Sunflower is regarded as a flower of fidelity. Some folk magic practices assert that adding a few sunflower seeds or oil drops to someone’s food or drink will turn them into a loyal partner.

The Sunflower’s relationship to the sun makes it a symbol of fertility— a symbol frequently encountered in many cultures and traditions. Consuming sunflower seeds or taking a ritual bath with sunflower blooms or petals, is known to be propitious for conception.

Some rural folk magicians in 17th-century Europe employed an ointment to enable them to view the Faerie people. This was made with a combination of many summertime, sun-loving flowers, blended with sunflower oil, and let to thicken for three days in the sun.

Sunflowers are seen as lucky emblems in many traditional cultures. bringing prosperity if they are planted around the house and garden. Additionally, it is thought that picking a Sunflower at dusk and wearing it will bring one’s fortune the next day.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow, a plant of the Asteraceae, is one of the most common and frequently used medicinal plants in the world. Seen as a gift of mother nature, people have been using Yarrow since the beginning of time as a trustworthy ally. It has been used for millennia as a cure for wounds, infectious maladies, and a variety of other ailments.

Symbolically, Yarrow is a fantastic spiritual plant for connections. Herbalists and healers all around the world recognize its properties, and hence, it is recognized as a token that binds cultures from all over the world. Regardless, Yarrow’s symbolism is not limited only to connections. It has taken on numerous implications and symbols over the centuries.

In the Northern hemisphere, to predict the weather, Druids utilized dried Yarrow stalks.

Moreover, Yarrow has long been utilized in burial rituals and the protection of amulets in cultures across Europe because it was thought to ward off evil spirits and negative energies. It is known as an efficacious herb for performing destructive spells and hexes. It is popularly thought that hanging it over the front door will keep evil spirits at bay.

A significant connection of Yarrow with the rituals of Lughnasadh and the harvest season is marked by the decoration of altars with their blooms and wearing them around the neck. Thereby, Yarrow is a powerful tool for protection.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)

Goldenrod!

Its name already disentangles two distinct roots: “gold” and “rod” all in connection with the festival of Lughnasa and the harvest season . More than that, late July is often when this plant blooms, opening the thresholds for the Lughnasadh and the season to come.

It is a member of the Asteraceae family, and these members of the daisy or aster family generally have long, slender stems topped with plumes or tufts of tiny yellow or gold flowers. They grow in open woodlands and fields, especially where the soil is dry and sunlight plentiful.

Numerous species of flowering plants in the Asteraceae, go by the common name “goldenrod“, which is most often used to refer to the genus Solidago.

Like many other medical herbs, Goldenrod has long been the source of folklore and magical properties. For instance, in Europe, Goldenrod held in the hand is said to disclose hidden riches. It has an uplifting effect on everyone who works with this plant during these Lughnasadh periods. The stems can be fashioned into rough baskets as well as dowsing poles. Furthermore, this herb can be used to create a homoeopathic medicine, known for its effectiveness to treat renal and bladder problems, as well as rheumatism and arthritis.

Vervain ( Verbena officinalis )

Vervain, otherwise known as the Enchanter’s herb, Herb of the Cross, and Prostrate Verbena has a long history of use in magical and spiritual rituals that may be traced to the Celtic Druids, ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Along with Lemon Verbena, Vervain is a member of the Verbenaceae family.

Vervain has a long history of magical use. It is one of the plants that show up most frequently in potion ingredients and spell ingredients.

Vervain is used for wealth as well as protection. Vervain’s main characteristic is to defend believers from evil spirits and bad energy as well as to cleanse holy locations including altars, ritual objects, temples, and private residences. As a medicinal gift, it has been revered as a sacred plant by nearly every civilization that could have access to it, notably because of its anti-inflammatory and other therapeutic properties.

It has tonic and restorative effects and is occasionally used as homoeopathic medicine. When used internally, it can help with headaches, fevers, nervous exhaustion, depression, gall bladder problems, and insufficient lactation. Culpeper utilized it to cure internal diseases including dropsy and jaundice in the 17th century. Therefore, Vervain makes an excellent herb for offerings around Lughnasadh and during the harvest season, as does Meadowsweet with its sweet almond-like aroma.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

One of the three most sacred herbs to the Druids, Meadowsweet, has a very long history of use in herbal remedies. It is a unique, fragrant plant with medical benefits due to its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, stomachic, and tonic properties. It is usually collected in July, when the plant is in bloom, and can be saved for later use.

It is possible to extract salicylic acid, which is present in the flower head and used to make aspirin. In contrast to the extracted aspirin, the mix of ingredients in Meadowsweet acts to preserve the inner lining of the stomach and intestines while still providing the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin, diminishing, therefore, the risk of gastric ulcers at high doses.

Other names for this member of the Rosaceae family include “Queen of the Meadow,” “Double Lady of the Meadow,” and “European Meadowsweet”.

Throughout Europe, including the British Isles, Meadowsweet is frequently found in wet woodlands, meadows, fens, and near riverbanks. It grows tufts of delicate, graceful, creamy-white blooms, along with fern-like foliage. It was regarded by the Druids as a herb that guards against evil influences and promotes love, balance and harmony.

It is said to place Meadowsweet on the altar when making love charms and conducting love spells to increase their potency. It is said that if one wears Meadowseat at Lughnasadh it helps the worshiper to join with the Goddess.

Chamomile

Chamomile is a herb of the sun and among the herbs associated with the god Lugh. Since ancient times, Chamomile has been revered as a magical and healing herb and is contrasted into two types: Roman Chamomile and German Chamomile. Only a few characteristics distinguish these two self-same herbs, but the symbolism remains the same. Therefore, the advantages of using German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) are the same.

 It is a highly relaxing plant with a reputation for promoting sleep and reducing anxiety and is frequently used as a sleep aid, pain reliever, diuretic, and digestive aid. 

Ancient Romans, Vikings, and Greeks valued Chamomile for its therapeutic powers, while ancient Egyptians utilized it in embalming procedures.

It is included in spells for prosperity and luck, harmony, love and peace and it is a strong herbal component in things associated with protection and banishing rituals. To prevent harmful energies or beings from passing through thresholds (such as doors and windows), an infusion is scrubbed on them.

Marigold / Calendula ( Calendula officinalis)

Undoubtedly, another herb that should not miss from any Lughnasadh and solar festivity, is Calendula.  Its blooms resemble the sun! Calendula helps us to communicate with the Faeries and expands our psychic ability. 

The history of using Calendula in food and medicine is extensive. Ancient Romans and Greeks frequently used crowns or garlands made of Calendula flowers in rituals and festivities.

The plant species known as Calendula (Calendula officinalis) belongs to the Daisy family (Asteraceae). Despite having a similar name to the common flowering plant of the same name, it is not to be mistaken with Marigold (Tagetes spp.).

Due to its calming and antibacterial qualities, Calendula is applied topically to treat wounds and has nourishing effects on the skin. Additionally, it may help with radiation dermatitis, chronic prostatitis, diaper dermatitis, radiation mucositis, vaginal candidiasis, episiotomy cuts and gingivitis.

blueberry dessert
Blueberry Shortcake Made With Wild Blueberries

Cookery

Wild fruits

Lughnasadh and the early harvest season is a great time of year in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere to go berry picking and gather wild fruits and flowers. Gathering bilberries at Lughnasadh is an ancient tradition that extends throughout the Summer harvest. The harvests will be plentiful if the bilberries are numerous. In the summer, almost every plant, flower and grain, reaches its greatest colour, flavour, and magical potency. 

Here in the northeast we pick blueberries, huckleberries and wild raspberries.  Here is one of my favorite dessert recipes that’s perfect for a Lughnasadh celebration of feast. Blueberry Shortcake: The Most Amazing Blueberry Dessert

Baking Bread

Baking bread is the focal point of the festival of Lughnasadh and a staple of the harvest season. All families celebrating the event make bread to have a plentiful feast. Other bakery products such as cornbread sticks, or baking a pie with a solar cross on top are also important elements to celebrate Lammas. Fresh vegetables and fruits, and wine made from rose petals are all suitable gifts to honour this time of the year.  

Here is a wonderfully easy recipe for sourdough bread: Easy Sourdough Recipe From Starter

harvest season

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to celebrate the harvest season, and choosing the one that most resonates with everyone’s heart is more important than focusing on all of them. We have to remember that it’s a propitious time to show our gratitude towards the earth, to the grain goddess, and to be merry for the abundance she provides.

Lughnasadh is primarily a time of thanksgiving when we celebrate all that we have in life and express gratitude to the gods and the earth for their blessings.

It is the moment when we start the process of reflecting on our lives— a time for introspection and harvesting the fruits of our past actions, experiences, victories, and setbacks.

Understanding the season’s transition is a reflection of belonging— of being in one’s place. It is a call to action to establish proper relationships with the environment, our bodies, our homes, and our communities.

Author

  • The Outdoor Apothecary

    Barbi Gardiner is a bioregional herbalist, gardener, forager, modern naturalist and creator from the “quiet corner” of Connecticut in what is known as The Last Green Valley - the largest stretch of dark night sky in the Northeast megalopolis corridor. She is of Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck, Polish, and Scandinavian descent and is committed to reviving the plant knowledge of her ancestors. The Outdoor Apothecary aims to inspire people to return to their roots, rewild themselves with nature, and rediscover the joy of living a simple life.

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